Caryn and I raised our kids together. We were kids together, but we didn’t know it then. We thought we were grown-ups, 19 and 20, both of us in love, engaged, both of us planning our weddings.
She was my husband’s friend first. He knew her from Trinity Episcopal Church, where both their families were active members, in the choir, on committees. We met for the first time at her parents’ house. It was Christmas Eve. She introduced me to her fiancé, John.
That was the beginning.
Her daughter Michele was born first. Then my son Rob. Then Kerry to her and Lauren to me. Then five years later, she had Sarah and I had Julie.
Our kids were friends. Our husbands were friends. We were friends.
These were good times.
We lived only seven miles apart for 20 years. There must have been days we didn’t see each other, didn’t strap our kids into the car and drive to each other’s house.
But I don’t remember those days.
I remember playing. We were always playing. We took the kids to parks and to playgrounds and to Jolly Cholly’s, and we took them, most times, just to each other’s houses, where we’d hang out, coloring, making ice cream, making a mess. On weekend nights we played cards or Yahtzee with our husbands, one week at her house, the next week at mine. Eventually we played racquetball every weekend, ending the night with pizza at the Town Spa.
Caryn taught me that plaids are supposed to match. She also taught me how to match them and how to interface collars and how to make bound buttonholes. She taught me to knit, too, and to crochet, and to not be afraid to do a back flip off the diving board. One spring, she signed me up for tennis lessons — that was a bust. And winter after winter she tried to teach me to ice skate.
She still does all these things.
Her house was always under construction. John kept building rooms, adding on, adding up. I never thought they’d move. But Caryn got breast cancer and after chemo and radiation and months of feeling sick and wondering if she’d ever be better, she was.
Cancer changed her life. She always wanted to live by the ocean. So she and John sold their sprawling house in Walpole along with most of its contents and bought a little place right on the water in Scituate. And John got to work adding on and adding up there.
Caryn found her purpose: working with the elderly. She jumped out of a plane. She ran the Boston Marathon. She golfed with John. She bought a kayak. She loved this new part of her life.
But she was no longer just seven miles away, so there was no hanging out every Friday night. No “I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I’d stop by.”
Things changed. Our kids grew up and then we had grandkids and jobs and more to do than when our kids were little.
Still, we saw each other at holidays and birthdays and christenings and baby showers and random times when we’d meet for dinner, just the two of us, just because. And we saw each other on the Cape, for a few days in the summer, her kids and their kids and my kids and grandkids. All of us, together.
And every time, all the time, it was like old times.
Last week she and John moved to South Carolina. “It’s only a plane ride away,” we both said. “We hardly see each other anyway. We’ll probably see each other more. We’ll talk. We’ll text. It will all be fine.” And maybe it will be.
But it doesn’t feel fine today. It feels like loss. It feels like the empty space a carnival leaves behind when it packs up and leaves town. It feels like what it is: a thousand-mile gulf.
We’ll get used to it. But right now, today, I miss my friend.